This week in San Francisco Microsoft launches its much heralded Office Communications Server 2007 into the collaboration and communications marketplace. But this launch raises as many questions as it offers opportunities for enterprises to radically change the way they communicate.
OCS is somewhat reminiscent of the old Saturday Night Live “is it a floor wax or desert topping” skit from 1975. To some, OCS is simply the third generation of Microsoft instant messaging platform. To others, OCS represents a way to radically transform the enterprise communications landscape, providing a new paradigm for communications that eliminates the enterprise IP-PBX, and instead converges all forms of real-time communication on a software based platform, using clients running on Windows PCs, and applications running on Windows server. At last spring’s VoiceCon event, Microsoft Business Division President Jeff Raikes argued that enterprises that adopt Microsoft’s approach to software-based communications can cut the cost of their telephony system by up to 50%.
But by and large enterprises haven’t bought into Microsoft’s arguments just yet. Almost all of the enterprises Nemertes Research interviewed for our last benchmark on communications and collaboration indicated a willingness to at least listen to Microsoft’s arguments, but for now they weren’t ready to abandon their IP telephony systems, preferring instead to integrate Microsoft’s presence and collaboration features such as instant messaging, web conferencing, and hooks to applications such as Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft Office SharePoint with their existing or planned VOIP systems from vendors such as Nortel, Cisco, Avaya, ShoreTel, Mitel and others. Many cited concerns about Microsoft’s lack of experience in the voice market, as well as concerns about Windows scalability, performance, and security issues as limiting factors in their consideration of Microsoft as an alternative telephony platform.
So what’s an enterprise IT architect to do in the wake of the marketing blitz that begins this Tuesday? First, those who are considering moving to OCS either as a new deployment or as an upgrade from Microsoft Live Communications Server 2005 should begin to test OCS in their labs, or in small groups, to see if their users will accept software-based telephony using a PC-based soft client, versus the more traditional desktop appliance (though a number of USB and stand-alone phones have already been announced to support OCS). They will need to carefully evaluate their telephony feature requirements to see if OCS can support the telephony features used within the organization. Finally, they’ll have to test the resiliency, scalability, and performance capabilities of OCS in comparison to more established solutions. And, they should look at additional capabilities such as conferencing, integrated web conferencing (via bundled or hosted Microsoft LiveMeeting services), and Microsoft’s new RoundTable room-based video conferencing system.
So while Microsoft expects the game to change this week, the reality is that they still have to prove themselves as a worthy competitor to companies that have spent a long number of years building out reliable, scalable, and cost effective VOIP platforms. They still have to win the hearts and minds of IT executives concerned about a radical departure from VOIP architectures that are still relatively new and often not fully deployed. Now that OCS is finally ready for the masses, the real battle begins.